The National Human Rights Commission(NHRC), after a delay of almost two years has instituted a spot enquiry by its own team led by Rajvir Singh into widespread overreach by the state police and administration in both Kanpur and Lucknow districts. The action comes on detailed complaints that pointed out various human rights violations during the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Uttar Pradesh first sent to the Commission on December 24, 2019.
During the anti-CAA protests in UP, several allegations of the incidents of deaths in police actions; brutal and excessive use of force by state forces and the and fabricated cases against human rights defenders (HRDs) apart from cases of custodial torture have come to light and even and even reported in news media. The state of UP also had one of the most widespread internet shutdowns during the protests with 21 districts experiencing an imposed internet block over a span of about 10 days. Further, there was also a blanket application of Section 144 across the entire state.
One such petition or complaint was by Wajahat Habibullah, Sajjad Hassan, Maja Daruwala and Henri Tiphagne states that the imposition section 144 amounted to complete suspension of the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and expression and to peacefully assemble guaranteed in Article 19 of the Constitution. It said that the state government and police did not follow the required legal standards and operating procedures to manage assemblies which meant excessive use of force by security forces on peaceful protestors leading to loss of lives and severe life-threatening injuries. The petition highlighted how many HRDs were detained on clearly trumped up charges and in a manner replete with procedural violations with many alleged instances of custodial torture.
This petition highlighted that the Commission’s interventions were warranted as all these actions of the UP government and the police were in contravention to the set guidelines on deaths in police actions, arrests in a bid to secure human rights.
Series of actions by NHRC
The first action was taken by NHRC in January 2020 where it clubbed the several complaints it had received related to the anti-CAA protest related incidents and called for reports from Chief Secretary, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow and the Director General of Police, Lucknow within 4 weeks. Thereafter in July 2020 the NHRC perused the reports sent by Superintendent of Police, Banda and SSP, Saharanpur that no such incidents took place in their jurisdiction. However, in the light of newer complaints received by the Commission, it sought fresh reports and also directed to submit medico-legalreport of all the activists who were detained by the police.
Also, the Commission directed its Investigation Division to have the allegations made in the complaints to be enquired through telephone, or even by conducting on-the-spot enquiries, in order to ensure that no HRD is harassed illegally, and the cases registered against them, if any, are being investigated properly by following the established process of the law and to submit the report within 8 weeks. However, there is no update on the same or whether this inquiry was conducted in the first place.
The complaint was based on facts gathered from media sources and other reliable individual sources. Uttar Pradesh witnessed widespread protests on December 16, 2019, across the entire state. From Aligarh to Lucknow to Varanasi and even in Mau, students, citizens, civil society organisation came out on the streets, expressing solidarity and protesting against brutal police force against fellow students in New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU).
Violence of unprecedented nature was seen at the AMU campus, where local police and the Rapid Action Force (RAF) entered the campus and fired rubber bullets, pellet guns and teargas shells at the peacefully protesting students.
There were reports of 19 cases of deaths in police actions across the state. A senior police official confirmed to Free Press Journal that 14 of 16 persons dies from firearm injuries while in most news reports the UP Police denied to state the number of deaths. senior police officers in Bijnor confirmed that a civilian Mohammad Suleman, 20, died after he was shot by constable Mohit Kumar in “self-defence”.
The state police had on December 18, 2019 issued notices to more than 3,000 people across the state, cautioning them not to participate in protests against the CAA on December 19, 2019. In a statement, Uttar Pradesh Police said that over 5,300 people were taken into preventive custody for alleged involvement in violent protests and later released. Of this 879 are arrested and 154 FIRs have been filed in UP. The police have registered 76 cases and arrested 108 people for sharing and posting objectionable and misleading posts on social media in connection with the law.
There were also reports that the police sealed hundreds of shops owned by Muslims, alleging that they were among the agitators and were involved in violence.
Through the petition, it was appealed that the NHRC urgently and immediately intervenes, as the apex human rights body of India, to ensure that officials are held accountable for suspending human rights.
Since the UP police refused to ascertain the number of deaths that took place due to police action, the petition called for an urgent independent investigation to ascertain the same. The petition also appealed that the NHRC acknowledges this as an extraordinary situation and use the expertise of its investigation wing, special rapporteurs, special monitors and members of the NGO core group. The petitioners also prayed that the NHRC sets up an independent team for investigation – ensuring victims of police violence, HRDs who were detained and arrested, family members, relatives and colleagues of those killed in firing depose before this team.
“Given that it is an absolute case of police violence backed by the state administration, the case by no means be limited to response from Uttar Pradesh authorities or limited to investigation only by the investigation wing of the NHRC – composed solely of police officials but an independent team also including NHRC’s special rapporteurs, special monitors and members of the NGO core group. While investigating into these cases, we urge that the NHRC also focuses on adherence to all relevant laws, procedures and guidelines to be complied by the state police and administration,” the petition reads.
In specific prayers, the petition sought the following actions from NHRC:
In cases of Deaths in Police Actions –
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh to seal and preserve all the locations where firing took place
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that all victims’ bodies are preserved to enable the video-graphing and conduct of post-mortems in full compliance with the NHRC guidelines; and the post-mortem reports are handed over directly to the NHRC
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that all forensic and other evidence is seized from every location and preserved
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that the names, duty records and registers relating to all police officials on duty on all the necessary dates are collected, listed, and secured and handed over directly to the NHRC
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that all the weapons, and all related evidence such as projectiles, bullets, and cartridge cases used by the police personnel are seized and secured and handed over directly to the NHRC
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that all wireless and vehicle log book records and entries between December 16 and December 23, 2019, are collated and handed over directly to the NHRC
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh that all call detail records of all police personnel involved in supervising police actions at the time of the firings and all calls made between December 16 and December 23, 2019, are collated and handed over directly to the NHRC
● Direct the Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh to seize all available CCTV footage in and around each area where firing took place and hand over directly to the NHRC
● Ensure that procedures laid down in Section 129, CrPC on dispersal of assembly were followed in full compliance, including the assurance that only an Executive Magistrate, or officer in charge of a police station or in the absence of the officer in charge, an officer not below the rank of a Sub-Inspector gave adequate and audible warnings first for the assembled to disperse and only after that that firing was to commence. The Commission’s investigating team is urged to take the statements of every area Executive Magistrate and Station House Officer to ascertain who was present, whether force was used in a graded manner, whether warning before resorting to lethal force was issued audibly, and which official gave the warnings.
● Ascertain if the standard operating procedures to be followed by the police, also as may have been prescribed in the Uttar Pradesh Police Manual, in case of management of public assemblies was adhered by the Uttar Pradesh police in all cases
In cases of detentions and custodial violence –
● NHRC to compile all police stations and corresponding judicial Magistrates’ courts under whose jurisdiction individual or mass detentions have taken place
● Ensure that the names, duty records and registers of all arresting/detaining officers and Station In-Charges on all the necessary dates are collected, listed, and secured
● Inspect the General Diaries, FIR and arrest registers of the police stations to scrutinise whether the needed entries recording arrests/detentions were made
● Inspect any register listing preventive arrests and detentions as above
● Seize and examine all relevant CCTV footage from the police station premises
● Ensure that all the mandatory procedures on arrest and detention laid down in Sections 41 of the CrPC, particularly with Sections 41B and 41D, and Sections 50, 50A, 51, 54, 55A, 56, 57, and 60A of the Code were followed by the police
● Ensure that the constitutional rights of all arrested persons guaranteed under Article 22 of the Constitution of India were fully adhered to (namely informing the arrested persons of the grounds for arrest, right to a lawyer/legal representation, and being produced within 24 hours in front of a judicial magistrate
● Ensure that the NHRC guidelines on arrest were complied with
● Demand and examine copies of Inspection Memos that are to be drafted by the police that are to list any injuries or marks on the bodies of any arrested/detained person (DK Basu guideline)
● Inquire whether the district Legal Services Authority was informed by the (each) police station of the arrests and detentions
● Ensure that every detained/arrested person was produced before a judicial Magistrate within 24 hours of arrest – case diary entries, GD entry
● Match time of arrest in police records with time of production in court roznamcha – and also in arrest memos
● Examine all orders given by Judicial Magistrates on remand/detention/release
● Examine that orders on preventive arrest or detention were issued in writing and laid out legal grounds for preventive arrest or detention
● Ensure that any person preventively arrested under Section 151 CrPC was not detained in custody beyond 24 hours
● Determine that no arrested person was subjected to excessive force or acts of torture
● Whether women police were at the place of arrest and in police stations
In cases of police high-handedness and targeting –
● NHRC to conduct spot inspections of all shops/businesses sealed by police to ascertain damage to property
● Seize and examine all available CCTV footage – any videos by credible media sources
● Call for lists of the names and designations of all police personnel on duty and involved
● Match up with vehicle and wireless log records
● Speak to independent eyewitnesses at the scenes
● Determine whether the police conducted preliminary investigative steps to list the shops/businesses to be sealed, and what these were, including all written orders or documents
In cases of Internet shutdown –
● NHRC to call for all orders or directions that required the competent authorities to prevent citizens and other entities from accessing internet services, particularly to ascertain the duration and locations pinpointed, if any, for which such prevention of access was ordered
The petition may be read here: